By Team ICG® Master Trainer Jim Karanas

We”™re not wired to seek out pain.  Human evolution developed and adapted a neurological system and sensory perception for reducing pain and seeking pleasure.

Easy-to-moderate cardio conditioning is of a manageable intensity that feels good.  Once someone gets past the initial discomfort of moving the body and sitting on a saddle, riding a bike is pleasurable.

So why do we take our students past that point and encourage them to hurt?  And why do we do it ourselves?

There are plenty of good reasons.  But the focus of this post is how to encourage new students to recognize the benefits of training at high heart rates and willingly ride into hurt.

Spiritual teachers speak of consciousness, that transcendental thing with the mind that goes beyond the physical universe.  What”™s interesting is that more and more studies show that the mind relies upon the physical processes of the brain, yet no one knows exactly how.

In Buddha's Brain, Rick Hanson and Richard Mendius describe how human survival strategies have led to human suffering.  That”™s not the topic of this article either, although it”™s a fascinating read.  One of these strategies has a direct impact on training intensity — the fact that humans are wired to "hold onto fleeting pleasures and escape inevitable pains."

Haven't you ever noticed how counterintuitive it feels when you contemplate a training or event that will hurt?  The guiding principle in the human body is homeostasis.  Exercise in general takes us out of homeostasis, and high intensity will take us far out of it — or, in the case of an ultra-endurance event, for a very long time.  You might overlook pain for a while if you see enough ads with models and athletes, or read what celebrities do to stay fit.  After a time, though, it all sounds somewhat ridiculous.  Yet this is what we tell our students to do.

Understand that this is not wrong.  There are many reasons to exercise hard and experience hurt.  But hard training becomes exhausting unless there”™s a reason for it that goes beyond the usual stuff the industry throws at us — caloric burn, muscle confusion, muscle shock, looking great naked — and the gadgets to make those things happen.

Working with your mind to encourage your body is central to every path of psychological and spiritual development.  "Shocking" the body grossly misrepresents the process.  There”™s no surprise.  We willfully take the body into discomfort for reasons that have little to do with how our physiology reacts to the stress.

The physical benefits of hard training are well documented:  increased aerobic capacity, improved ability to burn fat, enhanced metabolic boost, reduced risk of diabetes, reversal of Metabolic Syndrome, greater longevity, increased lean body mass, greater insulin sensitivity, and more.

So, physically, it”™s good for us to go hard.  As an instructor, you can recite the above list of benefits every time you take heart rates up in class.  It might start out convincing, but the impact of the list will diminish over time, even though the benefits still apply to your students”™ physiology.

Hurt requires a better reason than the benefits list for our students to keep embracing it during training.  Again, neurologically, we”™re wired to avoid it.  That”™s why we feel apprehension and anxiety before every hard effort that produces serious discomfort.

You”™re on a ride and turn into a stiff, 25-mph headwind that reduces your speed on a flat road to a soul-destroying 6 mph in your easiest climbing gear.  You must ride in that direction for another 50 miles.  Endurance will not get you through that ride.  Strength will not get you through that ride.  None of the physical attributes you may have developed through your classes and training will get you through that ride.  Only resilience will.

What is resilience?  A dictionary definition centers on the ability to recover quickly, to bounce back.  In this context, it could be seen as an attitude:  ‘It's not that it doesn't hurt.  It's just that it doesn't matter.”™  More precisely, it”™s a non-attitude — a non-reaction to the hurt that then leads to acceptance.  Bouncing back would be the result.

The road is the road.  Being a cyclist means accepting it without judgment.  Facing a headwind for 50 miles might be the toughest thing you”™ve ever done, but it's not really good or bad.  It's what is.

All the cardio conditioning in the world will not teach you this.  You must willingly go into the hurt and discomfort to train yourself to accept what is.  The conflict the pain causes you also provides you with the opportunity to overcome it.

The Zen behind it is ‘no attachments, no aversions”™.  That way, you”™re always present in the moment, working with what is, and whatever happens is OK.  It”™s as applicable in a cycling class as it is on the road.  It”™s as applicable in life as it is in training.

The question is whether your students would be willing to hurt to develop these things — focus, presence, acceptance, resilience — and whether you”™re willing as an instructor to develop them enough to teach them.

That”™s why we ride hard enough to hurt.

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Originally posted 2012-06-18 08:23:31.

Jim Karanas
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